Despite all the built-up anticipation and hope, Virgin Australia’s first Boeing 737 MAX 8 will unfortunately not arrive in time for the scheduled launch of the airline’s new destination, Tokyo. With the route launch going as planned, replacing the unavailable next-generation narrowbody on the route will be the airline’s older Boeing 737-700s instead.
Deliveries delayed till July and beyond
The first two of eight Boeing 737 MAX in Virgin Australia’s livery were initially scheduled to be delivered in February, then was pushed to last month, and the launch of the flight services to Tokyo was timed to coincide with the aircraft’s arrival properly. However, none of the expected next-generation narrowbodies have since arrived due to a delay in the delivery schedules from Boeing.
According to Boeing, during discussions with the US Federal Aviation Administration last month, the delay in deliveries of the Boeing 737 MAX was because supplier Spirit Aerosystems had advised of a ‘non-standard manufacturing process’ used for fittings in the aircraft’s aft fuselage. This could result in non-compliance with the required specifications.
While the issue poses a non-safety threat, it still affects a significant number of undelivered aircraft both in production and in storage – including those meant for Virgin Australia. In a statement, Boeing said:
“We expect lower near-term 737 MAX deliveries while this necessary work is completed, and we regret the impact this issue will have on affected customers and are in contact with them concerning their delivery schedule. We will also provide additional information in the days and weeks ahead as we better understand the delivery impacts.”
As for the narrowbodies intended for Virgin Australia, July and August are now brightly highlighted on the airline’s calendar for possible delivery dates for the first two. And although another two were initially scheduled to arrive this July to October, this timeline has been pushed back to the fourth quarter of this year. This new timetable will see Virgin Australia with at least four Boeing 737 MAXs by the end of this year.
Photo: Virgin Australia
Tokyo still gets the green light
With the Boeing 737 MAXs slated to arrive beyond this July, Virgin Australia was left with two choices; push back the route launch or operate the new route with a different and older aircraft. Considering how the Tokyo flights have become time-sensitive under the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule now that the pandemic-related waivers have expired, Virgin Australia decided to proceed with the initial route launch.
Scheduled to commence on June 28th, the airline will use its sub-fleet of Boeing 737-700s instead of its main workhorse Boeing 737-800s to operate the route, considering the latter aircraft type does not have the range to make it to Tokyo. A spokesperson for the airline said:
“Due to the delay, we will operate our Cairns-Tokyo service using our existing Boeing 737-700 aircraft for a short period. The good news is that our customers will not be impacted and our schedule of Japan services will continue as planned.”
Aged over a decade-year-old, the Boeing 737-700s will operate the new daily service and depart from Cairns Airport as flight VA 77 at approximately 13:15 before touching down at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at around 20:00. Then the aircraft will operate the flight back at VA 78, departing from Cairns at 21:45 and arriving home at approximately 06:15 the following day.
Photo: Ryan Fletcher I Shutterstock
Although the older Boeing 737-700s can fly to Tokyo safely, the narrowbodies boast a slightly reduced passenger load compared to the intended Boeing 737 MAXs. And notably, five of the airline’s seven Boeing 737-700s do not offer business class cabins, which will see only two aircraft – specifically VH-VBY and VH-VBZ, being deployed on what would be the airline’s longest flight.
While Virgin Australia assured that the passenger experience would not be compromised, relying on two of the oldest aircraft in its Boeing 737-700 fleet for a daily non-stop service is quite the gamble. Even if the first two Boeing 737 MAXs arrive in July and August as per the new estimated timeline, the new aircraft will still have to go through routine regulatory approvals before being slotted into the Cairns-Tokyo route.
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Source: Australian Aviation